• Emma Holt

Succession Review (HBO, 2019)

“You can’t do anything with five (million dollars), Greg. Fives a nightmare. Can’t retire, Not worth it to work. Oh yes, Five will drive you un poco loco, my fine feathered friend. Poorest rich person in America; the world’s tallest dwarf; the weakest strongman at the circus...”

-Tom and Connor, Succession

With a name that captures the knife’s edge tension often felt between ever-contentious Roy Family, HBO’s newest venture into the realm of dark dramady (dark drama/comedy) offers a compelling look into the lives of America’s wealthiest elite. The show centers around the ultra-powerful Logan Roy, founder and CEO of a fictionalized company called WayStar Royco, a company thought to be based on the real-life Murdoch family empire, better known as NewsCorp, a company that owns Fox News, The New York Post and countless other powerful entities. Succession opens up a narrative into a world otherwise shrouded in secrecy and carefully curated for public consumption. What Succession has captured expertly so far, is the trauma, culture, and corruption that runs rampant in the corporate capitalist work environment, as well as how it affects the family environment. Logan Roy rules his empire with an iron fist, but is forced to confront the fact that his health and age are beginning to falter as he struggles to meet his corporate obligations.

Season one opens up with an introduction to the potential candidates who are likely to become the company heir, a selection largely comprised of Logan’s varying children, each with their own motivations and interests for the company. Kendall Roy, Logan’s capable-but-conflicted “golden” son, emerges as the frontrunner in season one, but is denied his official crowning when stubborn Logan makes an unexpected change of plans, despite his advisor’s and family’s concerns about his well-being. Lashing back, Kendall plots a coup d' etat against his father but falls short at the last minute, and falls from his good graces. Though he manages to claw himself back into his father’s palm by the end of season one, Kendall loses the fierce ambition for the CEO position and falls victim to his addiction he fought so hard to overcome. Apathetic and distraught, Kendall’s grief is palpable throughout the series as he falters back and forth between groveling for forgiveness from his father and making his own waves in the corporate, socio-economic arena.

Though Kendall remains a dominant and powerful presence throughout the series, following his traumatic incident at the beginning of season one, his focus seems to shift as he attempts to play into the archetype as his father’s right hand man. During this transitional time in Kendall’s character, several other characters emerge as strong candidates for King and/or Queen of the Waystar Royco Empire.

Though she lacks the corporate experience and company affiliation of her brothers Kendall and Roman, Siobahn (AKA “Shiv”) Roy, artfully acted by Sarah Snook, certainly caught my attention with her sharp wit, her political savvy and prowess for handling difficult situations. It’s no secret that Shiv is the favorite child of Logan, but his love for her alone is not enough to make up for her lack of corporate experience. Always the intelligent puppeteer behind a number of well plotted political, corporate and family moves, Shiv demonstrates a great hold over Logan unlike any of her siblings. Instead of deciding which move to make, Shiv decides if she even wants to play the game. Though she sometimes can come off as a little conniving or self-interested, I believe Shiv is one of the good ones in this show. She genuinely wants what’s best for her dad, family, and for herself, but she also cares about her own reputation. Whether or not she succeeds her father as the head of Waystar Royco, Shiv is destined to be powerful in her own regard. Will she overcome her inexperience and take the company in a new direction? In the end of season two, she promises a key character that she wishes to change the company for the better. Will she see that vision through? Only time will tell.

Last but not least, the sibling with the darkest sense of humor and the most exemplary of the rich and elite stereotype, is Roman Roy. Roman is the perfect third character to throw into the pot because he serves as a comic relief, but he is also a blend between his other siblings. He starts off wanting the CEO position for the wrong reasons, namely for the wealth, grandeur and acclaim with none of the responsibility. But as season two advances, Roman is forced to embrace his new position as COO and he actually falls into the position rather nicely. He leans on long-term employee and general counsel to Roman Roy, Gerri Kellman, for all matters of guidance, including after-hours help with his sexuality. If Roman manages to keep his childish tendencies in check and use his social edge to elegantly maneuver the company out of certain financial disasters, he might have a shot at Logan’s throne after all.

While Kendall, Sioban and Roman remain the key candidates for becoming Logan’s successor, there are a variety of other colorful characters in the show that add to the volatile chaos and flavor of this sophisticated series. Gerri, Rhea, Tom, and Greg were among the most compelling characters in this story so far, in my opinion. They each add their own dynamic because most of them are outside the Roy’s nuclear family and are treated differently.

For me it’s a tough tie between Kendall and Greg for my favorite character in the series. Kendall is very relatable in the sense that he always puts 110% effort in to make his dad and everyone else around him happy, but he himself is very unhappy and struggles daily. Greg is also relatable, but on a different level because he was an everyday guy who was elevated to extreme wealth rapidly through the help of a very rich relative. Even after being accepted into the Roy clan, he is still treated as an outsider looking in. Many of the scenes between Greg and Tom are lighthearted, humorous and uplifting, but they actually get at the core of the disparity between the poor, the rich, and the really, really rich. In this moment where both humor and drama are combined in perfect harmony, Succession puts forth a compelling narrative and tone that sets it apart from other series within the drama genre.

In a country where there is no limit to wealth, those who become the most successful often do it at the expense of their personal health, family, love life, and interpersonal relationships, as illustrated by the life of Logan Roy in Succession. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offering total sympathy to the wealthy, who have never known the struggle for basic necessities like the poor. What I am saying, is that what we see on T.V., and in the news about the lives of the rich and famous, is not always the real story. Sometimes the real story isn’t always a pleasant one. The American dream has long been riddled with pitfalls, and it's time someone shined some light in the dark areas. Many of the richest families in the U.S. are plagued by trauma, abuse, and deception like the Roys.

Season two is a slow burn that offers no definitive front runner; not until the finale, that is. Yes, the last 5 minutes of the finale dropped a bombshell both satisfying and thoroughly surprising for this viewer. Just the kind of zest I would expect from creator Jesse Armstrong, who’s comedy essence from Peep Show is unmistakable. Has Logan underestimated the power of his own creations? Will he step down or die at the throne? Will Waystar Royco crash and burn? Along with many fans across the world, I will be excitedly anticipating the answer to these questions. After a well-deserved Emmy sweep for the 2019 Award show, including Outstanding Lead Actor (Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy), Outstanding Drama series, and most importantly - Outstanding Main Title Theme Music, I have full faith that HBO will renew Succession for more seasons. Until then, the insidious piano theme song will be playing in my head as I excitedly await the season three premiere.


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